OCT 26, 2016 12:02 PM PDT

Why High Altitudes Cause People to Feel So Awful

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

The peak of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, is nearly 14,000 feet (4,207 meters) above the sea level. This makes it the tallest point in Hawaii, and one of the best sites in the world for serious star gazing. And if you ever have a chance to visit the Mauna Kea summit, you'll hear plenty of caution about the altitude change and how to prepare your body. So, what does going higher off ground do to your body?

Most of the effects of high altitude stem from lower air pressure, which leads to fewer oxygen molecules in the air at these levels. High altitude is defined at being at or greater than 8,000 feet above sea level, which translates to around 25 percent less oxygen molecules available for every breath you take. At the Mauna Kea summit, there around 40 percent less oxygen than at sea level.

Not having a lung full of oxygen molecules can take a significant toll on the body. This manifests in increased heart and respiratory rate, as your body is trying to get at more oxygen. People who don't acclimatize appropriately can be overcome with altitude sickness, which can include headaches, dizziness, and nausea or vomiting. Fortunately, the human body adapts well to most conditions, given the right acclimatization. As such, if you plan on visiting Mauna Kea or any other high altitude locations, heed the warnings to acclimate your body well!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
DEC 17, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 17, 2019
Watch Seals Band Together to Scare a Great White Shark Away
Great white sharks are rather renowned for being massive and merciless predators of the ocean, and among their favorite prey are fur seals, which are rich...
DEC 22, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 22, 2019
Ever Wonder What Happens Inside a Clam's Shell?
Most people think of clams as a gooey blob inside of a two-piece shell, but there’s actually a lot more going on inside that shell that you might com...
JAN 09, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 09, 2020
Australian Bushfire Update
Devastating wildfires continue to ravage the continent of Australia. The report from BBC News below, which aired earlier this week, gives an encompassing u...
JAN 25, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 25, 2020
Are You Still Working on Your New Year's Resolution?
There are a few cardinal rules when it comes to goal-setting, and you've probably heard them all before. Goals will be successful if they are specific-...
FEB 04, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 04, 2020
Different Predators Work Together to Corral a Swarm of Sardines
When large schools of sardines materialize in the oceans, it can be a spectacular sight. In some cases, however, the sight can be so spectacular that it me...
FEB 11, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 11, 2020
How the World's Fastest Cat Compares to the World's Fastest Dog
Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal; their powerful hind legs give them incredible launching power and their stretchy spines provide a massi...
Loading Comments...